Starbucks discriminated against dyslexic employee

We look at the disability discrimination case causing a stir at Starbucks.

10 February 2016

The case of Kumulchew v Starbucks recently made national headlines. The Claimant was employed as a Supervisor in a London branch of Starbucks. She had always made her employer aware that she had difficulties with reading, writing and telling the time as a result of dyslexia. She had previously requested that tasks were shown to her visually, rather than in writing; that she be allowed more time to understand tasks; and that a colleague check her written work for mistakes.

One of the Claimant’s duties was to keep a record of water and fridge temperatures at specific times throughout her shift. When she mistakenly entered incorrect information on the temperature records, she was accused of deliberately falsifying documents. Her employer gave her lesser duties and told her to retrain. She told the Tribunal this left her feeling suicidal. She brought a claim in the employment tribunal alleging disability discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal has confirmed that the employee is a disabled person under the Equality Act and she was unlawfully discriminated against by her employer. A separate hearing will now be heard to determine the level of compensation she should receive.

Although this is a first-instance case (so is not legally binding on other tribunals), it serves as a helpful reminder to employers that conditions such as dyslexia can amount to a disability in some cases – triggering the duty on employers not to unlawfully discriminate and, in particular, to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. Not everyone with dyslexia will meet the legal test of being a disabled person, and each case should be considered on its own facts. The employee in this case was treated particularly poorly, given that she had made her employer aware of her dyslexia and had sought assistance in the past. It is likely this will be reflected in the level of compensation awarded.